(Enya: Paint the Sky with Stars)

(Enya: Paint the Sky with Stars)

Paint the Sky with Stars

[Excerpt from Reminisces of a Vampire Hunter, with additions from an editor: Vryvrlyn L'Ryan, 1575 DR]

The sky was just beginning to darken into the flat gray light of an evening. Thankfully, the snow had stopped falling a few hours ago, so it at least appeared to be warmer. Even the ribbons, the gift from an offworld angel, could only do so much to provide heat.

The snow was ankle deep in this bit of the forest, where the trees were not so close together, rather, some stood in solitary loneliness, some in clumped groves, some in couples or little groups. Sort of like people in a city, come to think of it. Long, stretching branches turned into withered hands, and gnarled bark became twisted faces before I managed to wrench my imagination somewhere else.

The cold was beginning to penetrate my dagger-sheath black leather boots, and I regretted not heat-warding them when I had the spells on hand. I'm naturally lazy. At least my cloak of a deep royal purple was warmer – I tugged the heavy hood over my flame-colored hair and attempted to imitate Uncle Tlaker's I-know-where-I'm-going stride. Which at least made me laugh. After a while it was quite obvious that this was not only making a fair bit of noise, it was also quite difficult to accomplish in the snow.

If you're reading this, Uncle, you know what I mean.

Gods, I was bored.

I returned to sneaking, the normal gait of a L'Ryan female in uncertain territory, and felt intensely thankful for the ribbons, which snaked and curled over my wrists, waist and legs like living serpents, deep green slivers of color. The backpack felt a little heavier every few meters, the large scimitar Hunger between the backpack and my cloak as well.

At least it was quiet now.

Somewhere in a big forest ages away from any city, probably away from most humans as well, and I'm trying to find a single habitation, which isn't marked on any map. Wonderful. I hoped I'd make it by nightfall.

Sucked on a lolly as I walked along. This one was mint – not my favorite, but passable. I am terminally addicted to sweets, and at least this sort kept.

It hadn't been exactly a very fulfilling trip, either. Mostly to destroy a breeding pack of vampire wolves, which had been exciting while it lasted. Right now the pointed canines of the entire pack was in a velvet-lined pouch inside the backpack, and Hunger seemed sated for the moment. Wish I'd taken Mother's advice – don't touch magic swords. Too late now I suppose, but the scimitar's saved my skin more than a few times.

Hell. Four hours of walking and the only other living thing than all these boring trees was an eagle a few hundred feet up. I was spoiling for a fight.

So I began to sing. I'm quite aware that my voice is not of enough standard for a bardic profession, thank you, but it tends to attract attention. I liked this song, anyway – my aunt used to sing it to me while I was still little. Voice a little muffled by the lolly in my mouth.

"Little bird - spread your wings,

Fly up high, away from me,

The gentle wind – softly sings,

Fly away...away, I love thee."

I stopped a little and concentrated on listening as I walked, but no other sounds than the shriek of another eagle somewhere.

Damn. My toes were beginning to freeze, my breath made clouds in the air, and my fingers itched to hold my weapons.

"Little bird – soft brown beau,

Soft your song, that gentle trill,

Go from thy nest – sing adieu,

Fly away...away, 'tis Gods' will."

I'd always wondered about that phrase.

I was well into the second repetition and feeling better, even if no bandits, goblins, wolves, giants or suchlike had shown up to attack. The song's plaintive but catchy melody was oddly cheering. Or maybe it was the long-ago memories of the sprawling mansion now referred to as Home Base, such an unemotional name for a place I deeply loved.

The air was crisp, and my fingers smug in the deep purple, nearly black gloves with dart sheaths, matching the deep purple tanktop and the dull gold ring of a belt loosely around my waist, that held up the long lightweight skirt of the same hue slit on both sides high up on the leg. Sounds indecent? But it's comfortable – and much easier to move in than those heavy dresses so in fashion now.

I mean, I thought the whole point of clothing was to be comfortable. People are most strange.

I looked up at the sky and wondered if I'd reach Markas before it got too dark. Then again, a little darkness may encourage the so-called children of the night to come and play.

Then my internal radar switched on. There was something out there, somewhere. Close by and trying to keep very, very still.

I know this sort of thing, so I continued on as if nothing had happened, until I got under a particularly large oak tree in a grove of particularly large oak trees. Fairly innocuous, if you didn't notice the...

The familiar rush of excitement burned in myself, a hot elixir, as I drew Hunger, holding it in a two-handed grip, and leaped up as high as I could. Being a L'Ryan female, that's saying quite a bit.

I used my momentum to swing down, and I fancied hearing Hunger shear through the air itself before slicing cleanly through a thick bough. Made sure I landed neatly, like a cat, before drawing a dagger from my boots and shifting Hunger to my right hand. The bough crashed down through branches below it and finally landed a foot or so away, with a thud and a shuddering of twigs. Broken bits of tree fluttered down slowly.

Wow, too close.

Whatever had been crouching on the bough landed easily several meters away, none the worse for wear. Good. I liked my opponents skilled, or it's no thrill at all.

He also had a backpack, and wore a thick, forest green cloak that would have been some camouflage in the trees. Scabbards at his side – curved scimitar ones. Interesting. Scimitars had gone out of fashion lately.

He turned around, and I blinked a little. Dark skin, white, thick hair, pointed ears, pretty face – dark elf. Hey, purple eyes...nice colour. At least in the 'adult' stage, too – they develop a certain easygoing air after a while. Chain mail gleamed under an insulating shirt tucked into comfortable-looking trousers.

Don't look like any dark elf I can think of.

He's not making a lot of noise, even though there's still a fair bit of sunlight.

One of those 'surface' dark elves?

Currently he looked a little surprised and annoyed that I'd barely missed cleaving him in two along with the branch.

"Ain't personal," I said mildly, and leaped for him, slightly nettled that he hadn't thought to draw his scimitars. A 'normal' dark elf would have attacked by now. Tongue slid over the sweet, a burst of minty taste, and then I pushed it with my tongue into the side of my mouth.

The snow was a bit hampering, so he managed to dodge in time to avoid being disemboweled by Hunger. The scimitar sensed a fight – its edge began to glow a bright purple. I liked purple, okay?

Unfortunately for the elf, by my next step I was a little too close for him. L'Ryan females move fast. Stopped my dagger an inch away from those amazing lavender eyes. He tensed, and stared at me, wondering why I hadn't continued.

"It's not fun if you're not going to fight," I told him, and backed off. "C'mon, draw your scimitars."

"Who are you?" the elf asked warily. He wasn't drawing his scimitars. Damn. Some people are such wet blankets.

No harm telling him. "Name's Vryvrlyn L'Ryan. Yeah, I know. My mom thought the name was cute." I mean, people sometimes come up to me and say, 'Really Vryvrlyn?'

Thank you very much, mother.

The elf thought a little. And when they do this, I know exactly what they're going to say next. "The Vampire Hunter?"

"In the flesh." I grinned. Always wanted to say that. "Doesn't really suit me, though. I mean, I kill other stuff too."

"Like dark elves?" he asked dryly. Smart mouth. Very confident of himself for some reason, even though I nearly blinded him.

"Haven't killed one yet," I bantered. "My great-aunt did though. Used to hunt in the Underdark, she."

"So it is true what they say about L'Ryan females." Cool. A drow elf that actually prefers to talk than fight. For now, that is...but I'm easily taken by first impressions.

"Yeah. Males carry on the name, females go around killing vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghouls...though of course only the 'bad' ones. We've got a vampire down at Home Base...family friend since the 'first' L'Ryan female." Don't know how many centuries ago. Never one for history lessons.

Wondering why I'm talking so much? Well, this is sort of common knowledge in any city now on Faerun, and possibly in most bits of Toril as well. And the last person I talked to was a hysterical traveler a day ago who'd managed to get away from the vamp wolves by climbing a tree. Maybe he's still up there.

"So why do you wish to fight?" the drow elf was saying. Something about him is a bit familiar, but annoyingly I couldn't place it.

"I'm bored," I told him, and smiled. His eyebrows were a study.

"Fighting is not a..."

"Yeah. Whatever. Can we continue?" I asked hopefully. Purple eyes, speaks Common, two scimitars, dark elf not disgusted by the appearance of a human. Come on, memory...then again, might as well just ask. "Who are you? You seem a mite familiar."

"My name is Drizzt Do'Urden," the drow said politely.

Aha. "Really Drizzt?" I couldn't help asking.

"I have not heard of another," the dark elf smiled at my astonishment.

A reason to get him to fight. Finally. "Prove it," I challenged, and raised Hunger up a fraction, aggressively.

Drizzt made a weary gesture. "I do not draw my blades unless I wish to. Now, I have something else to do."

"Like what?" I questioned him. "If it's the vamp wolves east of here, they're dead."

He didn't look too surprised. "I had not heard of any vampire wolves, except the very dead one I found a ways from here with its skull kicked in and most of its bones broken."

"Didn't do that," I admitted. I like using blades to blunt weapons. Finesse.

"It was killed by the mad horse around here," Drizzt said, "It has been killing everything it could get its hooves into, and it appears to have been quite successful in this so far."

"Horse killing a vamp wolf...must be some horse," I said, impressed.

"It is," Drizzt assured me, "That is why I am here...to stop the incidents. Sooner or later it would meet a farmer or a woodcutter out here, and I fear the worst."

Sounds like most elves do – as if talking in a storybook. All the perfect language, perfect inflexion, unconscious dramatics...

"What can you do?" I asked curiously. "Going to kill it? Seems a bit of a waste."

"Unless I can cure it of its madness, that would be what I have to do," Drizzt shrugged, though there was regret in his voice.

"So your idea of finding it is to sit up in a tree and wait for it to come to you?" I said. Maybe if I got him angry he would attack.

"No, I was observing its spoor close to this tree," Drizzt retorted, but not angered at all. That's the problem about 'adult' elves. "Until I heard someone singing and decided to climb up to get a better look. Since certain people react violently to the sight of a dark elf I thought to stay up there until you had gone."

"Oh." I said, and couldn't help grinning. Drizzt blinked as the ribbons snaked over my wrists and around the base of Hunter's blade for a moment before twisting back.

"I had heard of those," he said, then smiled boyishly. "Is it true that you merged the spirits of snakes with the ribbons?"

"No, 'course not," I said, unsurprised since I'd heard that silly tale before, "They're a gift from someone I helped. Now, can we fight? I'm on a schedule...have to find a place here before dark, or knowing Markas, he'd come out to look for me. And I'm very sure he'd get into trouble."

"This place being the farm with many horses?" Drizzt inquired.

"Er, yeah. You've seen it?" I asked hopefully.

"That I have." Drizzt nodded.

"Good. Then you can take me there after this." I said happily. Problem solved, what luck.

Drizzt looked even more confused. "Would you accept that I do not wish to fight?"

"No." I said firmly.

Drizzt sighed, visibly giving in. "Then I will." He drew his scimitars, one an arc of blue – the famous 'Twinkle'.

Finally.

L'Ryan females are faster and stronger than the normal, something which usually surprises opponents...albeit shortly. But this Drizzt was as good as the stories went, and those days he still had those bracers on his feet that made him extra quick. The woods must have rung with the sounds of clashing blades. Gradually his annoyance at being pushed into a fight melted away in the face of the heady relish of a head to head, toe to toe scuffle.

Exhilarating – I love a good fight, and Drizzt was the best I'd come up against in a long while. Found myself smiling, wolfishly, eyes bright and alive, and Drizzt mirrored the smile even as we matched each other's moves, slash by slash, thrust with thrust. It went beyond the addictive thrill of competition.

Hunger shrilled and groaned each time its eager attack was stopped by a blade, and snarled when it blocked a scimitar offensive. It wanted to kill – a scimitar that lived to take the lives of others, for not much of a reason other than the sheer savage pleasure it apparently took from it. It wasn't a sentient blade – the gods knew how many times I'd tested it – but sometimes, to kill, it'd give you that extra edge, through any sort of armor, extra strength, dexterity, luck...once even magical protection, though it didn't often do that unless really necessary.

Unreliable, though. The help comes at such weird intervals that I don't even consider it anymore. Just welcomed when it comes.

The downside was that it needed a kill at least once a day, or many for a few days, or you could see the blade slowly blurring away, as if the scimitar was retreating to some other place, unsatisfied. I could guess what would happen if I didn't feed it for a while.

Drizzt probably knew about Hunger if he knew about the ribbons – it was even more popular as a subject of ballads, for some morbid reason. Wisely he avoided it as much as he could.

The ribbons wanted to help, but I held them back. Wouldn't be as fair – or as fun. They twirled and writhed in exasperation, but I ignored them. Reversed Hunger's blade, such that the flat of it caught a thrust and skittered it away, then I twisted and lunged myself, Hunger shrieking in triumph, then hissing in frustration as Drizzt parried.

Blocked his other scimitar – the glowing one – with my dagger, then kicked. Drizzt avoided it by leaping lithely back, but overbalanced and sat down hard. I had reached a bit too far with the move, and also fell over.

We stared at each other for a moment, then he began to laugh, an infectious sound that soon also had me chuckling along. Then he looked up at the sky.

"Getting late," he said, as if we had just spent the last bit of time chatting about the weather.

"Yeah," I agreed, matching his flippant attitude. The sun was threatening to go down. "Call it a draw?"

He shrugged and got to his feet, as if it didn't matter to him, and sheathed his scimitars. Hunger whimpered as I sheathed it pointedly, and then stuck my dagger back into my boots by standing up and balancing my foot on the trunk, admittedly exposing most of my leg.

Could have handed it to the ribbons, but I wanted to see Drizzt's expression.

Yes, he was staring. Good...this may be a little more entertainment than I had thought. I grinned slyly at him, and he averted his eyes.

"Noisy scimitar," he remarked, pretending that he hadn't been doing anything. Oh, a shy one? Or just unsure? Or playing coy? Loved guessing games.

"Hunger's like that," I agreed, and put down my leg, drawing my cloak around me. The dusky yellow hem with the simple pattern of squarish spirals seemed to reflect the last bit of golden sunlight. "Don't know what the stories say, but I got it from a guy it had possessed in a village near Amn. Mass murder, not pretty either."

"Possessed?" Drizzt repeated, a lot of implication in his voice.

"Nah, I'm sane," I said dryly. "We work together. Fought me at first though. Getting dark as you say...care to take me to the farm?"

"Sure." Drizzt said, then added, "It has been some time since I have spoken to anyone."

"Gets like that on a jaunt too," I commiserated as we picked our way over a fast-darkening land. Not that it's much of a problem to see at night, but it gets a lot colder. "Ain't my business, but true about that panther of yours then?"

"Yes," Drizzt said, and there was old regret in his voice, healed over with time. "Had to break the figurine to use the power and save a friend. Only dust was left."

"And that was like, a hundred fifty years ago?" I said lightly.

"My kind live long," Drizzt agreed. "All my original friends here have been long gone. I keep to myself more often now."

"All rangers seem to," I said, then reconsidered a little. "Except Trumel at Home Base, who is a bit odd. Nice uncle, of course." Took out the lolly, lips sliding over the slick surface, then put it back in. "Umm. Want one?"

Drizzt shook his head. "I do not particularly care for sweets."

"Don't know what you're missing," I replied impishly, finishing the lolly and putting away the stick in a pocket in the backpack. I don't really like to litter. "Is it far from here?"

"No," Drizzt said, looking around to get his bearings.

"Think he can put up with the both of us for a while, then," I said casually. "The kids would love having both the Vampire Hunter and Drizzt Do'Urden over."

He blinked.

"This isn't like two hundred years ago when you weren't very well known," I said airily, "Now you are. You'd find that your name'd open a lot of doors."

He didn't look either pleased or embarrassed, as if this didn't really matter to him. Just like a ranger.

Except Trumel, who suits my aunt Maylen perfectly, one extroverted and exuberant, the other usually placid and calm, except when up against a monster, of course.

"The horse wandering around or staying here?" I asked. Sort of knew the answer already, though. Horses are rather predictable.

"Staying," Drizzt said, talking more now that we were on a topic he could identify with, "But expanding its territory."

"Wonder why it went mad," I said, then continued lightly, "Maybe it's this forest."

"What about the forest?" Drizzt glanced around.

"Insanely empty. Boring. To me, at least," I added, when Drizzt's eyebrow went higher and higher.

"To you," Drizzt acknowledged, "To me, the forest is full of life."

"Hey, you're for nature," I stepped over a tree root, "I'm for killing stuff, and I do happen to get bored easily."

"So that you go around attacking people?" Drizzt smiled. Aha, there's some humor in him. I liked him a little more.

"Well, there's that...and this." Might as well start first. I pulled him around by his shoulder and kissed him soundly on the mouth, cupping his cheek with my other hand so he couldn't flinch away. He froze at first, as I'd suspected, but then, as I'd hoped, he responded. Younger elves are those with the volatile tempers. Older ones tend to know what they want, and whether it's advisable to follow through.

More entertaining.

'Course, they'd also been doing this for a longer time, which makes them more fun as well.

We kissed again under the old maple tree that marked the beginning of Markas' farm, then I threw a snowball at him and we chased each other down into the large snow-covered meadow.

The half-wild horse herd was just preparing to kip down for the night, but when they smelt us, they all thundered down to have a look. The matriarch, a big gray, sniffed at me, then at Drizzt, then whickered authoritatively.

A younger mare detached itself from the group and galloped away to the farmhouse on the other edge of the meadow to report, while most of the rest of the herd wandered obediently back to where they were going to rest. Except for the younger colts and fillies, which hung around at the fringes, jostling each other, trying to get a better look. The gray and three other mares nudged us until we started walking to the farmhouse.

"Hey, Nipper," I greeted the gray. She snorted at me, continuing to lead the way. Nipper wasn't very friendly except to Markas and the immediate family. I recognized most of the mares, but it'd been a year or two and there were new ones.

"I thought a stallion headed a herd," Drizzt said, stopping once and glancing back. The blue roan behind him gave him a nudge to start moving again. There were a few stallions in this one, but mostly in subordinate positions.

"Markas breeds submissive, boring stallions for the gentry who want to be seen riding a stallion but can't control a true one," I explained, "And he breeds fiercer, dominating mares for soldiers, mares that can work together. At least they don't go mad when other mares go in heat, unlike a stallion, and they don't fight when that happens."

"Makes sense," Drizzt agreed. "I wonder if the mad horse has found this farm yet."

"Have to ask Markas about that," I said, and petted the gold mare trotting sedately next to me. "This one's Golden. She likes apples...pretty thing but doesn't really like riders."

Drizzt held out his hand to the mare, and she sniffed it politely, then bumped it with her muzzle.

"Likes you," I said, unsurprised. Animals tend to like rangers. "Just don't try to ride her."

"I will keep that in mind," he said with exaggerated gravity.

Nipper stopped outside the farmhouse and whinnied at Markas, who was standing in the doorway and rubbing his hands in the cold. He rubbed her behind the ears affectionately, then waved us in, not even commenting at Drizzt's appearance. He's a great bear of a man, black bearded, moustached, with keen gray eyes and a hearty voice, muscled and callused from farm work. His wife's May, a short, plump, sweet woman, but those sort of people whom you like immediately at first acquaintance, a bubbly, friendly person, freckled and brown haired and beautiful in her way when she smiled, which was often.

Currently she fussed over our wet clothing, made us put our cloaks and boots near the fire to dry, provided slippers, then waved us over to the large table and set two new places, after making us put down our backpacks and weapons at a corner. Drizzt looked unused to the attention, but eventually submitted with a smile. The many children in the house, ranging from Ash, the eldest at one and twenty years of age, to Daisy at age three, greeted and welcomed with a great babble of noise. I call Ash child here for convenience, even if I'm only a year his senior.

All the boys named after trees, and the girls after flowers. I swear Markas' a romantic at heart.

There was one stranger at the table, but it wasn't unusual. Markas often took in travelers for the night. This one was another giant of a man, with light red hair tied in a ponytail, and a carefree, good-natured face, where two eyes of an absolutely weird color of gold twinkled out of.

Nearly attacked him. Gold eyes usually mean werewolves, but there was something about him that made me sure he wasn't one of the Wolf People. Looking at my eyes instead of at my throat, for one. Two – not flinching at the silver threads woven in my gloves, when he rose to shake my hand, then Drizzt's hand, in greeting.

"Drizzt Do'Urden and the Vampire Hunter?" he said, when the voices had stilled somewhat. Unsurprisingly, the children began to talk again, loudly, mostly questions of 'Drizzt Do'Urden?' and such, so I held up a hand and raised my voice over that of seven boys and four girls, a not unsurprising number for a farmer.

"The Vampire Hunter first," I said, a little devilishly. "And I'm hungry. Can we eat?"

"You ask the same question every time you stop here," Markas took his seat at the head of the table ponderously, then turned to Drizzt with solemn formality. "Ranger, you are welcome here."

"Thank you," Drizzt replied with equal courtesy, glancing at the stranger curiously. And there was something about him, come to think of it, some heady sort of aura, like that of a powerful mage.

Not my business if he didn't want to tell me.

"My name is Jack and I'm a storyteller," he said with a smile. "Was just passing through when I happened on this place."

"Jack tells great stories!" Alder piped up, and there was a general murmur of assent.

"After dinner I'd have another for you, then," Jack said with good humor.

Dinner was as usual, very good. May is an excellent cook. I told her that she wasted her talent cooking for only her family when she could make a lot of money in the city as a chef, and she giggled. The ribbons, soaking in the happy ambience, went limp with pleasure in my lap.

Everyone helped clear the tables and wash, then Markas sat by the large wooden chair next to the stone fireplace to smoke his pipe. Jack, Drizzt and I were given chairs at the other side of the fireplace, while the children either pulled up a bench or sat on the ground.

When everyone was settled, Markas spoke up. "You 'ere f'r 'em wolves, Vampire 'unter?"

"Was," I said, pulling up my backpack and retrieving the pouch where I had secreted the pointed fangs. I took one out. The long, translucent pearly white of the delicately pointed tooth gleamed dully in the firelight.

Some of the kids squealed with delight, so I passed the pouch around. They could take some if they wanted – only needed one to give back to Home Base.

"An' you?" Markas glanced at Drizzt, though there was nothing abrupt or demanding in his voice.

"The mad horse around here," he said, settling comfortably into the chair as if it was the greatest luxury he'd had for a while.

"The st'llion?" Markas thought, "The red 'un?"

"It does have at least a few red hairs," Drizzt agreed. "Have you seen it?"

"'e tried t' pick a fight wi' one o' mine." Markas blew out a smoke ring.

"T'was Runner," Ash said helpfully, being the oldest. The rest kept silent.

"Yeah. Nipper kicked 'im g'd," Markas chuckled. "'e seem'd a mite s'pris'd when all the mares rounded on 'im and 'ounded 'im outa 'ere."

"I would think so," Jack laughed.

Drizzt sank into his seat and looked thoughtful.

"You stayin' f'r a while?" he asked me, glancing at me under his bushy eyebrows.

"Maybe," I grinned.

"Ain't got a free room now." He admitted.

"Oh, I can..." Jack began gallantly.

"Nah, I've slept in the barn before, and it's no problem," I cut in. For such a big farmhouse, Markas only had one guest room.

"If you say so," Jack said doubtfully.

Drizzt didn't say anything about the implication that we'd have to share the barn, but he was in thought and could be excused...he'd find out later anyway.

Jack turned to regard the elf. "Will you be killing it, then?"

Drizzt glanced up sharply. "If I have to," He said, slowly.

"Saw its marks coming here," Jack said, "Destructive creature. There's a dead elk 'round here, smashed into bits by the hooves. Few dead vultures next to it, too. It will destroy itself, too – one day it'd come up against something it cannot handle."

"Wond'r what 'appened," Markas sighed. "Few 'orses go that loco."

Drizzt said nothing.

"I wonder if it can be ridden," I said. I have a fascination with riding, even if most of the places I go to aren't horse-friendly.

"Maybe y'r e'en more loco than the 'orse," Markas said, seriously.

"Do you have a training pen here?" Drizzt asked.

"Sure, but..."

"Then we can try," he decided. I gave his hand a grateful squeeze. A horse that can kill vamp wolves would be a fine steed, or a fine stud.

"Won't be able t' breed 'im 'ere," Markas said regretfully, "The mares'd ne'er take t' 'im."

"'ow 'bout Vanha's farm downabouts?" Fir, the second eldest, asked. "'e's got some breedin' mares."

"Last resort," Drizzt said, "If it cannot be tamed."

"Everything should be given a chance," Jack agreed. This particular conversation appeared to be drawing to a close.

"A story!" Birch piped up, youngest son. Daisy was quick to agree.

"Would either of you...?" Jack smiled, and there was something so intrinsically gentle about him that one found oneself ignoring his large frame.

"Nah," I grinned. "Most of my stories are the same."

"I am not a good storyteller," Drizzt said wryly, "You are most welcome to tell one."

"But not about me," I said quickly. "I start laughing hysterically."

"I do not truly like to be reminded of the past," Drizzt said for himself.

"Hmm," Jack said, and thought a little, then brightened. "Would you like to know about how the stars came about, then?"

"Sure!" Sungold piped in. Girl of ten, promising, when she filled out, to be a real head-turner.

"Well. They came like this." Jack cleared his throat, concentrated a little, then slid into that mesmerizing, measured tone of any great storyteller. "There was once a boy about young Hawthorn's age, name of Tyrn. 'Twas a grand-sounding name for a peasant lad who wasn't handsome and hadn't much in the way of money or talent either, and whose only commanding resource was his great heart. He loved to help others, always kind to animals, aiding his neighbors, and listening to his parents and two elder brothers."

Seems like most story heroes were like that.

Except for the not handsome bit.

"Now in those days there weren't any stars or such in the sky, only the sun which had to travel from east to west then back up from west to east each day, its light a lot dimmer from being tired, hard work for it instead of letting it rest and come up back at east all fresh and happy. So there was still a bit of night which resembles what we have now."

"But one day," here Jack's voice lowered conspiratorially, "It said to itself, 'Why should I, the Lord of the Day, slave both Day and Night for people who do not appreciate me only to curse me for shriveling their crops or for making them sweat? Why should I? Now I shall sleep in the Night. Let the people see what life is without me, and then they will love me better.'"

"And so the Lord of the Day came down to the west...and did not go back up. And the people realized for the first time how horrifyingly empty and dark the sky was without the sun, even a diminished sun. And many went mad, or worse, and without the sun's revealing light, the monsters from the deep forests and the unknown seas crept up on land to kill and destroy."

Could nearly imagine those monsters. Maybe my brain's working overtime. I took a look at my companions – everyone was paying all their attention to the big red-headed man, even Drizzt.

"Though each day the sun came back up and chased them away, they would come back each night. And frightened as the people were, no matter how they begged or prayed, the Lord of the Day refused to come back at night. For he found the rest most suiting to him. He was not a very selfless creature." Jack said wryly. "Lost count of how many times he'd made my skin blister on my neck." This got a few chuckles.

"Poor Tyrn watched his eldest brother go mad in despair, heard screams from his neighbor's house one night, and though he rushed there with torches and knives with other neighbors, they found the entire family chewed up and eaten by a horrible monster that seemed cloaked in deep shadow, whose teeth dripped blue fire. It was a long battle, still told in that village today, but they managed to drive it away, though they took severe losses."

"And the next time the Lord of the Day showed his radiant face, Tyrn said to his family," Jack's voice changed to that of the unstable baritone of a growing boy, "'I'd be going on for a while,' said he, 'I'd find the solution to this empty night, and make everything all right again.' And no matter how his mother and father and brother entreated and threatened, his mind was set. He'd seen his best friend slain by the monster, and another dear friend die from the wounds, and his heart was decided."

"So his mother packed him a lunch and his father gave him some advice: to help all in his way, to listen to advice, and to stay alert at all times, and his brother gave him an axe, and off he went to seek the world's salvation from night. And he walked until he came upon a path less taken, and he continued along it, hoping that he would get somewhere safe before it got dark. And he saw how beautiful the fields were in the sunlight, and he wondered if he should try to walk to the House of Fire where the Lord of the Day stayed, and entreat Him to show his face in the night."

"Even as he was pondering this last he came upon a weasel, and in its wicked fangs a woodmouse. The weasel dropped the mouse when he stepped forward, and disappeared into the grass, while the mouse lay still on the path. When he reached the mouse he found to his surprise that it was quite alive, and he washed bound up its wounds with cloth torn from his shirt. His father had told him to help all in his way, after all."

I knew what was going to happen next – the mouse was going to talk.

"And to his surprise the mouse looked up and said, 'Boy, I thank you.'" I knew it. Always happens. "And Tyrn replied, still astonished, 'You speak!', to which the mouse twitched its whiskers and replied, 'So do you, boy. Is that so much of a miracle?'" Sungold and Lily tittered at this.

"'Boy,' the mouse continued, 'I am in your debt. Is there something I can do for you?' And Tyrn responded, 'I seek the solution to the endless darkness at night, but I would not think that...' The mouse cut in sternly. 'Just because you are bigger than me and louder than me do not mean that I know less than you. As it so happens, I may know of something that can help you.'"

"Of course Tyrn was much excited, and hastened to press the mouse as to what it was. The wood mouse twitched its nose and rubbed its whiskers and said, 'Some distance east of here is a house painted all in silvery white, which glows in the darkness, and the monsters stay away from its light. Mayhap whoever lives in it could help you.' And since Tyrn had no other plan, he had to seek the house."

"It was nearly dark when he reached it, with the mouse on his shoulder – and truly, the house seemed wrought of pure silver and glass, so brightly did the paint shine, though when he touched the walls he felt that it was mere brick. The house itself was quite unremarkable – it looked like a rather unkempt cottage, with thatch falling into pieces and the windows blurred and dirty. The doorknob was splintering and the door itself, worm-eaten, but Tyrn knocked, seeing the smoke come out of the unstable chimney and knowing that there was someone in the house."

"The door opened with a creak and a scrape of its wood base against the wood floor inside, opened by the most stunningly beautiful woman that Tyrn had ever seen, with a kindly , flowerlike face and intelligent eyes, and hair of the same startling silver-glass as the paint. She wore a demure white dress, under which peeked shapely bare feet and well-turned ankles."

"But the mouse squeaked into Tyrn's ear, 'I like her not. Be wary,' and ducked quickly into Tyrn's bag. Tyrn, whose father had told him to listen to advice, did so. 'Do come in, traveler,' the woman said most prettily, and closed the door after him."

The story had a plot which I had heard of before in millions of others, but the way that Jack told it made it very unique. I listened on.

"The inside of the house was richly furnished, unlike the outside. It had carpets of myriad design, tables and chairs of cunning carvings, and a charming fireplace with a large painting over it, which was the strangest in the room – it was a painting of pure black, a dead black. Tyrn had not the time to examine it, for he was seated in a chair before a table and his boots taken off to be dried and his cloak as well. 'I can cook you some dinner,' the woman said with a smile, 'Please wait.' Tyrn thanked her, and as she went into the door to the kitchen he got up, the mouse perching once again on his shoulder, and looked around more closely."

"The scent from the fireplace was most lulling and soothing, but Tyrn shook away the induced stupor and examined the room. He had been told to remain alert, after all. It was most innocent, except for the tomes in the bookshelf set in the wall close to the fireplace. Though he could not read the strange words on the spines, he noticed, oddly, that the books where chained heavily to the shelves."

"'Only magic books need that,' the mouse whispered, 'Only dangerous magic books.' So Tyrn knew that the woman was a witch. However, he did not damn her because of that, not yet, so he sat back down at the table as he heard her come back out from the kitchen. She smiled most charmingly as she saw him waiting, and brought out food."

"There were dishes and platters of steaming food, stew, bread, cheese, pie, fish...Tyrn's eyes opened wide and his mouth watered, but the mouse whispered in his ear, hidden in his hair, 'The food doesn't smell right to me. Don't eat.' And though it took all his self control and mystified his host, he did not, claiming that he was not hungry."

"She brought out wine, and it was of a rich color and a heady scent, but the mouse whispered, 'It doesn't smell right to me. Don't drink.' And though Tyrn began to doubt his friend's advice, he shook his head and claimed weariness. Then he asked, before she could try to press him to consume the food or drink, 'Lady, how do you get your house to glow with such a beautiful light?'"

"To which the woman replied, 'A magical paint, sir. The secret of its make is a family treasure.' And Tyrn said, 'Lady, I think this paint may be used to help others during the night.' And the woman replied, laughing – and a most delightful laugh, it was, 'There's not enough to make this paint in this world to paint all the houses in the world! Only if you paint the sky can it work, sir.'"

"And Tyrn blinked. 'Paint the sky?' 'Yes,' said the woman, 'That's the sky over there, sir.' She pointed at the painting, the black painting. 'Lady,' said Tyrn, much excited, 'Please, for the sake of the world, do it.'"

"The lady laughed, and it was not a pleasant laugh now. 'Why? It is hard enough work making the paint, for myself. What has the world done for me?' Tyrn was beginning to answer, when she interrupted sharply, losing patience 'I am the Witch of the Forest, and I am of dragon and wolf and the darkness. It is late, and I did need some true food. Come then, sir! I will eat your heart and be strengthened by your energy.'"

Jack's voice changed most horrifyingly. Dark shadows that danced due to the fire seemed darker, and the room seemed colder.

"And Tyrn found that he walked, not of his own accord, towards the witch, whose face had become even more beautiful, but it was a terrible beauty, harsh, glacial and sharp and treacherous. In her hand she held a knife, gleaming and sharp and cruelly edged. But his friend the mouse bit him as he passed his backpack, and for an instant the pain overcame the witch's enchantment!"

"And from his backpack Tyrn snatched the axe of his brother, and with a mighty step and a swing cut off the witch's head. She had no blood, and once she died seemed to shrivel and wrinkle, until only a gnarled branch sat cut into two pieces, on the ground. This branch Tyrn took and threw into the fire, which roared as if alive, then all the rich adornments of the room suddenly melted away to their true form, a creeping destruction."

"With horror, Tyrn saw that the food on the table had turned into bugs, worms and earth that slithered and writhed on the plates that were now only of plain wood, and the wine into muddy water. And he felt very grateful to his friend the mouse, indeed. And together they searched the now dirty and unlovely house until they found, upstairs, a large book with a cover painted in the same silvery white paint, and in it was all the instructions for making the paint. I can only tell you," Jack said with a wink, "That the paint requires first fallen dew, the sound of a new-born bird's first cheep, and the breath of the Northern Wind...and other ingredients, which are secret."

"And Tyrn slaved the next day, but could only make a tiny quantity of paint which would not even cover a fraction of the painting. But the mouse said, 'Why not splash the paint in dots over the painting? Then we can cover lots of it.' Tyrn agreed, and with a brush he sprinkled and dotted and flicked the painting full of little white dots. There was a bit of paint left, and with this he painted a dot which was too big and round, and which was splotched at times with the point of his brush. This was, of course, our moon."

They went outside, and saw that true enough, the sky was sprinkled with dots that glowed, and the large dot gave out a silvery white light which seemed to brighten everything. The monsters exposed to it screamed and shriveled away into dust, and Tyrn shouted and laughed for joy."

"Of course he could not return. Each day now he has to make the paints, and since each day the quantities of a certain ingredient are different, sometimes there are fewer stars, and each day the moon is of a different shape, until the fifteenth day when the certain ingredient is at is most plentiful and it is full and round as the first day it was painted. Making the paint had a magic of its own, for he found that neither himself nor his friend the mouse aged."

Jack sat back in his chair. "And that, my friends, is the story of the boy who painted the sky with stars, to save the world from destruction."

A short silence, then May said, with businesslike efficiency, "Thank you f'r the story, Jack. Now all o' you have t' go t' bed." She shooed the children away. Even Ash submitted...it was a late hour.

I got up and picked up the backpack – not good to let anyone accidentally touch Hunger's hilt. Jack smiled and waved goodnight before following May.

"You two all right in the barn?" Markas asked.

"Slept there before. We'd be fine," I assured him, and waited for Drizzt to get his stuff before wearing my boots and cloak stepping out into the colder air.

Drizzt shivered, sighed about the cold, then we headed quickly to the barn.

Once inside we shut the large doors, and lit the shielded lantern. The place smelled rather pleasantly of hay, which had been stacked here to store. Dumped my stuff in a corner, removed cloak and boots, then clambered to the hayloft, pulling Drizzt after me.

Darker here...but enough light to see by. Much softer than what I'd been sleeping on for the past few days, of course.

"You work fast," he said, with a wicked smile.

"Life's short," I replied, and reached for him.

**

Woke up too damn early in the morning. Roosters should be trained to crow at later hours, on pain of becoming soup or target practice.

Not even much sunlight yet. I sighed and turned over to look at the ceiling, ribbons snaking over bare skin, warming me. Drizzt murmured something sleepily into my ear that sounded like 'good morning'. Fellow probably has a bit of morning sickness.

Closed my eyes and took a breather, then turned back to him. "Are you going to catch that horse today?"

"Let's talk about this when I wake up," he muttered, eyes remaining shut.

Tickled him until he did.

**

Most of the family was streaming in for breakfast by the time we got to the house. We ate, got a packed lunch pressed on us, then left, promising to come back in time for dinner.

Markas somehow got Maverick, one of the farm dogs that normally slept and work with the sheep 'round the back of the farmhouse, to follow us. Old creature with too much drool in his mouth. But with a very good nose, and quite a bit of intelligence somewhere under that ingratiating exterior. Rangy, muscled creature half border collie and half a lot of others, like most farm dogs.

Drizzt had admitted needing a dog with a very sharp nose. What with the snow and a cold trail, the horse would be difficult to find by ourselves.

Currently we were back at where I'd found him yesterday. A fresh fall of snow during the night had nearly covered the fallen branch, and our tracks yesterday had been totally obliterated.

Drizzt patted Maverick, which wagged its tail furiously, then led us to a spot where there were several bits of reddish hair clinging to the tree bark. However, the trail was a bit too cold – Maverick managed to follow it to a dead end ten minutes later that petered out nowhere.

Patiently we walked around, in hopes of finding a new scent, Maverick enjoying the unusual walk – running ahead, barking at squirrels, chasing rabbits and having to be called back, Drizzt all serious and concentrating, myself just feeling lost.

"Wonder why he kept saying the word 'destroy'," I was thinking of the storyteller. The sun was beginning to climb in the sky, and we were nowhere closer to results than we had been.

Drizzt shrugged. "Maybe he likes that word."

"I'm curious to know what he is, though," I muttered. Really something about that fellow that got to me.

Drizzt nodded absently. Not about horse, not going into his head.

After we stopped for lunch, with Maverick begging shamelessly for food, still no sign of it. Apparently it had a rather big territory, but Drizzt was still optimistic.

I wasn't so sure, actually. We even found the remains of the vampire wolf it had kicked to bits later. No scent there.

The monster had been totally smashed, as if with hammers, and I wondered what sort of horse could do that.

**

Finally ran into it when the sun was at its hottest – which wasn't much, here.

Standing quietly next to a frozen river and breaking the ice with its hooves. Big horse, red chestnut with strange dappled flanks, as if it was a mix between a dapple and a brown. Mane and tail both a rich red brown. Weird colored horse, and as it turned and it looked straight at us – mad, mad eyes.

It shrilled a challenge, then charged.

"Stay here," Drizzt said quickly, and ran to meet it. I called Maverick to me – no use getting it killed.

The horse bore down on Drizzt, who stopped and made some calming noises – or I assumed he did. Couldn't hear from here. The horse stopped, curiously, amazingly.

Then Drizzt reached out his hand to let the horse sniff it. Instead of accepting, it suddenly whirled and kicked out viciously with both hooves.

The elf was fast. He dropped to the ground and rolled away and up. Didn't give up – stood still and tried to do whatever rangers do, but the horse was too mad to listen, and went for him again.

He barely managed to avoid the bites and the kicks, and it was soon obvious that the horse was quite murderous, at least here in the open. I took out my throwing knives and put them in my belt, then drew Hunger, telling Maverick to stay.

Approached, and called to Drizzt, "Hey, you want help?"

"I can do it," Drizzt replied stubbornly. So I watched, though I expected at any time for the horse to kick out his brains.

Magnificent creature, though. Wondered what it would be like riding it, but I was fast abandoning that idea. Pretty as the idea was, it wasn't worth getting someone killed for it. And the horse seemed beyond curing.

Finally even that idea managed to get into Drizzt's head – or maybe it was the glancing blow that knocked him into the snow, because when he got up he was holding his scimitars.

He knew, as I did, that we would not even be able to run fast enough to get back and trap it in the pen.

Even with them he was getting the worst of it, so I went to help. Stupid dog came along too – but Maverick was faster than either of us, and worried the horse by nipping at its legs and barking excitedly. Dodging the snapping teeth and the drumming hooves, finally got a clear shot at the proud neck, and thrust with Hunger.

Hunger went straight and true, piercing the neck, shearing through artery and bone. The horse screamed, fury and pain, murder in its eyes. Such hatred, so strange in this sort of animal, that I could only watch in astonishment. It lashed out a final time, which would have broken a fair number of my ribs had not Drizzt jumped on me and dragged me down.

Watched it die, slowly, twitching until it was still. Nipper barked, triumphantly. I looked back up at Drizzt and grinned. "Didn't we do this already?"

He chuckled, and helped me up. I retrieved Hunger, cleaned it, and then sheathed the scimitar.

Maverick barked again, and I looked to it. Standing next to the dog was Jack, who glanced a little sorrowfully at the horse.

What in the world?

"Who are you?" Drizzt asked, then.

Jack shifted his bag on his shoulder, and I saw that in his other hand he held a book. "Left the house to go on my way, found you here."

Drizzt shook his head. "I doubt that is how you could find us."

"I didn't sense you close even when we were fighting," I agreed.

"Very well," Jack said wryly, "Once my name was Destruction, and I was...and am, one of the Endless."

Drizzt looked blank, but I knew whom he was now.

"The one who walked away from his realm?" I said curiously.

"It runs itself," Jack acknowledged, "Now I am Jack the storyteller, at least on this world. I walk all of them."

"What did you have to do with the horse?" I asked.

"It was one of the cases I look into once in a while," Jack glanced at the carcass, "Though I am sad to say, it was also one of those which went to my sister Death's realm before it could be helped."

Drizzt looked even more confused.

"Everything should be given a chance...but thank you for trying," he added, with a warm smile, then turned his back and walked away. We watched him leave, then I explained to Drizzt, as we walked back to the farm, who the Endless were, and what they did.

He didn't look any less confused, but didn't seem to really mind. Older elves take things as they come.

Markas wasn't too surprised at what had happened. Stayed for dinner, shared the guest room, if you get what I mean.

Next morning, during breakfast, an owl message came. Owl meaning, of course, not really urgent. It's a peregrine message which'd be worrying.

The owl, a quiet tufted-ear known oddly as Beard at Home Base (its first name was Silent Wing, but nicknames stick), had a small scroll strapped to its leg. I read it as some of the boys fed it.

"What is it?" Drizzt asked curiously from the table.

"New listing of jaunts back at Home Base," I shrugged. Normal for an owl message. "I might as well return before the best ones get snapped up. I have a few too many cousins and aunts. Do you want to come?"

"Nothing else to do," Drizzt said, and ate.

We left in midday, waving to Markas and his brood and promising to come back to visit soon. Beard flew back after he had delivered the message and I had replied on the back of the paper saying that I would return.

"What is this 'listing?" he asked finally, when we were a few minutes down the road.

"Sort of the current matriarch of Home Base - my aunt Maylen – puts up notices and all that on a board in the house. Shows us the paid jobs – people paying us – and those that just happen, but we still take care of, like a vampire terrorizing an area."

"There's a new update every so often – usually when there's a sudden increase in activity. This world seems to breed monsters," I smiled, "Keeps L'Ryan life interesting. You don't really have to follow me after that – I mean, I'd love the company, but it's dangerous work."

Drizzt shrugged. Probably didn't seem to matter to him. One of those who thought he could handle it.

"It's like this," I said seriously, "Normal life expectancy of a L'Ryan female is about mid forties. Most of us don't even get there. I mean, my mother died when I was five – age of seven and thirty years, and that's considered pretty long-lived already, did you know? Maylen's the eldest now, and she's about 42. Of course, the guys live much longer, but you get the point, right?"

Mother killed herself. The Vampire Queen tried to turn her as she killed the Vampire Emperor, but she did herself before she could turn. I'm not sad about it any longer – everyone respected her more for her choice.

Partly why they called me the Vampire Hunter. Once I could use my weapons well, I went to track down every member of the Court that I could find. Killed most of them, too – the Bishops, some of the pawns, the Castles...and the Queen. The rest are in hiding, but I'd find them one day, and kill them all. I made a vow.

"I 'get' that you'd probably need my help sooner or later," Drizzt grinned.

"Won't be responsible if you get et," I told him, but I was really happy that he seemed to be staying for now. Usually didn't get much to talk to on a jaunt.

"I will not be around to hold you responsible," Drizzt replied solemnly. I rolled my eyes at him. Couldn't tell if he was being serious, or if he was silently laughing at me...his voice was so deadpan.

"And, I don't want you to get in my way," I continued.

"This sounds like some sort of treaty," Drizzt pointed out. "But of course. Are we partners then?"

"A little fast," I said. "Got any conditions of your own?"

"Whenever I feel that I have to make a move to help you, I will," Drizzt said, and this time I could hear the understated mockery.

"If you like." I smiled.

We shook hands on it, and though I didn't know it at the time, it was the beginning of a great partnership.

**

The boulevard leading up to Home Base was as shady and cool as ever. Long walk, but eventually got back here.

The Base in those days was still very much the same as it had been a hundred years ago – a stately old house with many newer extensions erected when there was a need for them. The boulevard opened into a large field where two of my cousins, Lindae and Myrtli, were sparring in earnest, while Trumel watched from a safe distance and cheered on both sides with unabashed indiscrimination.

They stopped when they saw us, and jogged up. "Lyn!" Myrtli squealed, and hugged me fiercely. Lindae joined in, and when we'd said all our hellos and how are yous they glanced at Drizzt.

"And who's your elf boyfriend?" Lindae grinned impishly. Drizzt bowed a courtly bow, very amused by their curious attitude. The girls tittered when neither of us denied or acknowledged it.

"Drizzt of Mielikki?" Trumel asked, touching his own unicorn pendant.

"Yes," Drizzt smiled and held out a hand, "And you must be Trumel."

"She's been talking about me behind my back again, hey?" Trumel winked at me. Bits of silver getting into his dark brown hair, but his blue eyes as lively as ever in a honest face set on a man with a tall, muscled frame. He shook Drizzt's hand firmly. "Great to see another ranger."

"Maylen's expecting you," he added, "Off you go."

Maylen was in her favorite place – the library, close to the large open windows, reading a book. My favorite aunt, kindly and ethereal – got up and smiled when she saw me, and raised an eyebrow at Drizzt.

"Name of Drizzt, friend," I said. I was getting tired of introducing Drizzt to all the mystified relatives on the way up, even the aforementioned vampire family friend, Gaider, who is so incredibly handsome it should be illegal. Anybody reading this who's L'Ryan should know what I'm talking about. All young L'Ryan females fall in love with him first, though he's never interested. Only loved the first one of us.

"An honor to meet you," Maylen said, and shook Drizzt's hand before seating herself again. "Family's decided to get a motto. Something nice to put up in the hall, etc, conversation piece that'd impress people who come here to pay for jobs. Everyone has to think of one."

"What was Trumel's?" I grinned.

Maylen made a face. "I told him to go away until he could be serious. He suggested 'Kill everything that has fangs, greenish skin, is falling into bits, or is just charging madly and roaring murderously'."

Drizzt's smile threatened to change into a laugh, so I stepped back a little to tread on his toe. He muffled a yelp.

"And Gaider?" I changed the subject.

"He had a better one, if a bit formal. 'Steadfast in Duty, Resolute in Honor', but then he started to laugh until I had to thump him on the back, so I doubt he meant it." Maylen smiled wryly.

Gaider's voice came from the library doorway. "It would be hysterically amusing if L'Ryan adopted it for their motto. I have known quite a few generations of you lot, and I mean it."

Maylen glanced at the vampire. "Gaider!" she chided.

He winked at her then glanced at me. "Eating lunch here?"

"Yeah," I nodded.

"Very well," he said mournfully, "Now I have to walk down and tell the cook and walk back up to continue to teach my class, who are probably, by now, wrecking havoc in the classroom."

"What did you come here for then?" Maylen asked mildly.

"To get a reference book. Your daughter asks the most annoyingly abstruse questions." He took a tome from a shelf, then left, grumbling to himself.

"Since he can't get tired, I don't understand why he complains," Maylen muttered. "And he did say that he liked people asking him questions. Back to the topic. Right. Make a contribution."

I thought wildly, but then a phrase which had stuck in my head since I'd heard it voiced itself. "What 'bout 'Paint the Sky with Stars'?"

"Lyn, if you're not going to be serious..." Maylen threatened.

"I mean really," I said, and I did.

"Like accomplishing the impossible," Drizzt asked. Ah, he's actually listening.

"And helping people too," I added.

"Is this some sort of story?" Maylen asked, interested now.

"Well yes. Destruction told it to us," I said, off-hand.

Maylen blinked. "Did he now. I'd heard he was trying to be a storyteller, but I did not think...ah, but it may not matter. Very well then..."

As we turned to go, I heard a muttered "Sounds much better than Trumel's, in any case.", and smirked.

Anything's possible, if you look at it in a certain light. And life's short, so try to accomplish as many 'miracles' as you can...sounds a little mad? But that's what life is, isn't it?

May you live every day of your life.

Paint the sky with stars.

---

Afterword

"Do you have some sort of fascination with the topic of love?" Zaknafein asked dryly as the author typed in the last words, referring occasionally to a stack of books next to her.

"Is it so obvious?" she admitted.

"Yes," Zaknafein said firmly. "This girl 'Lyn' really existed?"

"On one of the worlds, why not?" The author pointed at the books; "Those are her journals there. All the females keep journals, especially on important events like when they're hunting down and destroying some monster. Reference material for future generations."

"Dead already?" Zaknafein asked bluntly.

"Says here '1553 DR – 1605 DR'. I'd say so," The author took out a calculator and typed in a few figures. "Fifty two years. Not too bad I suppose. Drizzt's help did have some significance after all."

"Only fifty two?" Zaknafein took the last book and turned to the last page. "Notes here...'died by dragon'? Ah. Interesting."

"Only a few ways you can do that," The author said dryly, glancing at the page. "'Her lifelong companion from age twenty-two, the famed Drizzt Do'Urden, disappeared shortly after her death and has not been seen since, though there are rumors of him in the forests near Neverwinter.' Well, I suspected he would do that."

"Read the books?" Zaknafein flipped through the pages, slightly yellowed with age.

"Yes. Never married, but quite obvious they loved each other," The author shrugged. "Hmm. Have to remember to return the journals to Home Base."

Zaknafein replaced the book carefully back in its place.

"Where did you go the last time, anyway?" the author asked.

"I was talking to Death and didn't want to be interrupted," Zaknafein said neutrally, "So I asked her to put me in contact with another Zaknafein, and happened that she chose the one at Sanctuary."

"Ah," The author frowned. "Talking about what?"

"Not telling you," Zaknafein said evasively.

"Aww, c'mon."

"No." Zaknafein peered at the screen. "Why do you need me here, anyway? You did not need a single drow translation in the entire text."

"Comic relief," she grinned, "And a bit of company. And you do help too."

Zaknafein sighed. "Very well. Do you want the questions now, then?"

"Sure," The author said happily, "Jarlaxle was very annoying about that. I mean, really, next time you get help make sure it's cooperative."

"I will keep that in mind," Zaknafein said archly, then continued, "So. This Drizzt in the story is much older, has lost Guenhwyvar, and is wandering by himself?"

"Obviously," The author said, ticking off items with her fingers. "One, he is older because I wanted to change his personality a little, to make him more bearable. Two, lost Guen because I can't change hers, and I didn't like her anyway. If it's a her. Don't care. And wandering by himself was the only way I could get him to meet Lyn."

"I expected you to save the horse," Zaknafein said, "Since you have such a deep fascination for the smelly creatures."

"Hey!" the author glared at him. "I like horses, okay?"

"You like green, too." Zaknafein looked pointedly around the room. "Green curtains, green bedspread, pillows, mattress cover, carpet, wallpaper..."

"So?" the author demanded defensively.

"Why purple?" Zaknafein pointed at the screen.

"The books said so," the author said ingenuously, "Just had to add bits of what she looked like in her story. She doesn't include those in her journals much. And I did at first consider saving the horse, but that'd be too predictable."

"Destruction's involvement in the story is strange," Zaknafein said.

"Yes," the author agreed, "Mostly to tell the story, introduce him a bit, and see the horse which destroys other things, and finally gets destroyed. As he said, his realm runs itself, so there wasn't much need for him in the story. I sort of like him, though."

"Next story about?" Zaknafein asked.

"Desire or Delirium. Thought out their plots already." The author said with satisfaction. "Plot for the remaining ones, Despair and Destiny, haven't hit me yet. Okay, since you're so nice, you can go have your drink, and I won't go watch you this time."

Zaknafein bowed and headed out of the room.

The author glanced at the journals, and for a moment felt as though she could hear the voice of a dead woman, whispering, filled with a lust for life. And she smiled, a little regretfully, and closed the one she had referred to, and replaced it in the stack.